TIMOTHY WOLFE (1885–1969)
Timothy Wolfe was born in Cratloe, Abbeyfeale, County Limerick, on June 12, 1885, the son of James Patrick "Paddy" Wolfe and Honora Maher. He had at least seven siblings: Johanna (b. 1871), Patrick (b. 1872), Richard (b. 1873), Ellen (b. 1876), Maurice James (b. 1877), John J. (b. 1880), and James (b. 1882). His mother was herself a Wolfe, the daughter of Ellen Wolfe Maher, while his aunt, Ellen Maher Wolfe, married Richard J. "Brown Dick" Wolfe.
Wolfe attended Rockwell College, a private Catholic secondary school near Cashel, County Tipperary, and Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, Dublin. He studied medicine and surgery at the Catholic Medical School of Dublin and in 1911 received his medical degree from University College Dublin. He earned a bachelor of arts from University College Cork in 1920. In October 1911 he was elected medical officer of the Tarbert Dispensary District, in County Kerry, which served the poor under the administration of the Board of Guardians for the Listowel Union. Beginning in 1927 he held the same position in the county's Bruff district.
Wolfe was a nationalist who in 1917 helped to organize a Sinn Féin club in Newtownsandes on the Kerry-Limerick border. According to a biography in a Who's Who publication, he served on Sinn Féin's Ard Chomairle, or Supreme Council, from 1917 to 1918. A report in the Limerick Leader on August 8, 1921, during the Anglo-Irish War (1919–1922), notes that the British admiralty had "summarily dispensed with [Wolfe's] attendances at Tarbert coastguard station," citing his membership in the nationalist political party. Wolfe's brother, Father Patrick Wolfe, was then a curate in Kilmallock, County Limerick, and suspected by authorities of aiding nationalist rebels.
Wolfe appeared to have been a difficult person, at least in his youth—"someone who had perhaps an exaggerated view of his own importance," according to a Kerry judge who heard a lawsuit against the doctor. On June 7, 1915, Wolfe's relative, Brown Dick Wolfe, died at the Limerick County Infirmary following an operation, and Timothy Wolfe claimed the body. That afternoon, with the hope of conveying the remains by train to the town of Abbeyfeale, Wolfe went to the station and asked about departure times.
Wolfe became upset by the treatment he claimed to have received at the hands of Jeremiah O'Dwyer, the station's inspector, and, later, of Edward Sheahan, boots, or shoe cleaner, at the Glentworth Hotel in Limerick. He complained to the Great Southern and Western Railway Company, which conducted an inquiry, and published a letter in the Liberator newspaper of Tralee, causing both men to sue for libel.
According to O'Dwyer's testimony, Wolfe "came on to the station in an excited state and asked him as to when he could get a mortuary 'hearse'" for his uncle. O'Dwyer responded that "it was usual to give 24 hours notice and asked him by what train he intended taking the remains by and [Wolfe] did not say."
Wolfe claimed that O'Dwyer was reading a newspaper and refused to put it down or look at him. O'Dwyer testified that Wolfe took out a notebook and began writing notes, which Wolfe denied. The doctor eventually reported the inspector to the railroad "for being impertinent, insolent and uncivil towards him," while O'Dwyer claimed that Wolfe had used "objectionable and insulting language." During the investigation, Sheahan, who had been present at the station during the incident, backed up O'Dwyer's account, and Wolfe accused Sheahan of perjuring himself and reported him to his employer.
The Kerry News made clear that the judge was sympathetic with O'Dwyer and Sheahan. "He referred to the letters written by defendant to the Railway authorities [...] and expressed hope that [Wolfe's] authorities would deal with him," the paper wrote. "He came to the conclusion that Dr. Woulfe was not justified in the language he used against plaintiff […] and that the case was a most exaggerated one."
The judge deemed Wolfe's letter of complaint to be libelous but reluctantly ruled that it was not "actuated by malice." He further ruled that the letter to the newspaper was not libelous, and therefore dismissed O'Dwyer's suit. He awarded Sheahan £5 5s 0d.
Wolfe's relationship with his employer, the Listowel Board of Guardians, was also sometimes contentious. In 1917, he sparred with the board over leave time, and in 1920 he took exception to a member's complaint that the Tarbert dispensary was not sufficiently stocked. Wolfe wrote the board a letter, which was read aloud and then denounced by members as personally insulting.
According to a report in the Kerryman, "The chairman said it was quite unexplainable how any man should make such a statement in his letter as Dr Woulfe against a highly respected member of their board, and it was still more extraordinary coming from a gold medalist."
A member responded, to laughter, "A little learning is bad but too much is worse."